My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to “count my blessings“. Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.

The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones,  political uncertainty, financial concerns. I’m not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.

So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I’d like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.



Is there any greater gift than love?

We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg’s Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there  unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren’t cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn’t even going to be in the country, and……

This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.


And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs  of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very ‘grown up’ patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying “Well done Karen“.


Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home  their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one’s own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There’s also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.


When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours  in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid “by the gentleman with the blonde hair”. Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier!  So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.


Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just ‘hanging out’!

Charleston chic

Charleston chic

I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.

While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on  our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.



Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.

Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by  Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn’t need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)


Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.


As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to hear them

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.


May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.

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Party Time for Hummingbirds!


King Edward VII flowering currant

Zzzzzzzzzzip. Zzzzzzzzzzzzip.

Yes it’s that time of year when hummingbirds can be seen, heard and enjoyed daily as they flit from one flower to the next. Like most gardeners I used to rely on hummingbird feeders to entice them but quickly transitioned to adding flowering plants that provided a natural food source and habitat to support their presence year round.

Typically hummingbirds prefer blooms with tubular flowers  but in my summer garden they regularly feast on more open flowers also e.g. tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). Likewise although all the literature tells us they prefer red I have seen these diminutive birds slurping on everything from white and purple to pink and orange flowers.

These are the early spring flowering shrubs and perennials currently on the brunch menu at the Chapman’s.

Flowering Currant


Flowering currant is a great addition to a large mixed border, seen here with conifers and spirea


A modern selection  of a native shrub, King Edward VII flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’), quickly grows to 6′ tall and at least as wide. Although browsed occasionally by deer the damage is rarely noticeable as you can see and the hummingbirds LOVE these flowers!

One thing that I found interesting this year is the color variation. This plant (photo above and also the one in the leading photo) grows in full sun and the flowers are an intense, deep pink.


The shrub pictured above is exactly the same variety but the flowers are smaller and a softer hue. This shrub is shaded somewhat by neighboring trees which presumably accounts for the discrepancy. However, it struck me that to extend the duration of available flowers for the hummingbirds it would be a good idea to deliberately plant these in a variety of lighting conditions from partial shade to full sun.

Flowering currant is hardy in zones 6-8 and is drought tolerant once established. There are many named varieties with both pink and white flowers.



I think this variety may be Mrs. Moon

One of the easiest perennials to grow, lungwort (Pulmonaria) has many other common names including soldiers and sailors! This old fashioned favorite is now available with other flower colors from deepest cobalt blue to pure white but I still prefer the traditional coloring that shows both pink and blue flowers as they age. Likewise the foliage typically has silver spots but you can now find varieties with almost entirely silver foliage.

Fashion statement regardless, hummingbirds will squabble loudly over these! Be sure to place them where you can enjoy the show from your armchair or while strolling along a path in spring. The clumps grow quickly and are easy to divide to expand your planting area.

TIP: older varieties are prone to mildew. Shear the entire plant down to 2″ after blooming. It will quickly regrow and the new leaves will remain clean and healthy.

Although recommended for partial shade and moist soil I also have these growing in full sun with no summer irrigation –  and they still thrive!

Andromeda, Lily of the Valley shrub


I first saw these thirty years ago, flourishing in the acidic soils of Scotland and was envious of those gardeners who could enjoy the heady perfume and evergreen foliage. When we moved to the USA in 1996 I was thrilled to discover that Seattle also has acidic soil and so can now grow these in my own garden. The variety above is Mountain Fire (Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’)- one of many to choose from.


New foliage growth is a deep mahogany red, making a striking contrast with the older mid-green leaves. Tough, dependable and deer resistant this has also proven to be surprisingly drought tolerant and yes the hummingbirds love these flowers too – even if they are white!

I also have a young Impish Elf that looks promising with raspberry red flowers and several Little Heath which as a dwarf has much smaller flowers and I grow primarily for its foliage.


Variegated leaves of the compact Little Heath  – love the rosy flush of new spring growth

Winter daphne


These blooms are almost gone – most are faded to a dirty white although still emit a remarkable fragrance. The winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) has been flowering since early February and as such was one of the first blooms to entice the hummingbirds to visit. Planted adjacent to the lungwort these little birds won’t go hungry as they simple move from one flower to the next!

In harsh winters my daphne can lose a lot of their leaves but the plants quickly recover and are a highlight of the late winter and early spring garden, welcoming visitors of all species with their intoxicating fragrance and pretty variegated leaves.

And for dessert…


A special gift from my daughter last year – found at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

I’d love to add a few more treats for these wonderful little birds. What do YOU grow for hummingbirds? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook – I always enjoy hearing your ideas.

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Favorite Flowering Annuals for Containers


I need to be a mind reader. I’m excited to host three spring container workshops in the next ten days but I need to second-guess everyone’s tastes as I select plants for my guests to purchase and play with!

What colors might they be excited about this year? Are they tired of the tropical looking Canna or will they be disappointed if I don’t have any? Will they feel adventurous and be willing to try something completely new?

Selecting dwarf shrubs, perennials, grasses and succulents is actually pretty straightforward but the flowering annuals take more consideration. They are often the finishing touch that anchors a color scheme and certainly they are expected to give out some major flower power for the entire summer season.

As I head to the nurseries tomorrow there are a few ‘must have’s’ on my shopping list. These are often varieties that I have used for several years and know I can rely on.

Which are your favorites?

Painted New Guinea Impatiens

Painted New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

Painted Paradise Orange New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

It was a client who inadvertently introduced me to these. She insisted on having New Guinea impatiens in her pots but I was concerned that with only modest early season blooms she would be disappointed until they got into their stride. The answer was the ‘painted’ series that has wonderfully variegated leaves.

My favorite is the Painted Paradise Orange with its stunning yellow variegated foliage and red veins, Even without the flowers it adds plenty of punch. Flower color options include pink, white, red and wine

Fan Flower (Scaevola)

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

I have long been a fan of Whirlwind Blue fan flower in pots for the way it throws meandering branches of periwinkle fan-shaped flowers through its companions, trailing and mingling with abandon all summer long. It is one of the few flowering annuals that seems to perform equally well in full sun and part shade – especially helpful in those awkward settings where you have two pots flanking a doorway but one gets more sun than the other.

Last summer I had the opportunity to test Pink Wonder and was completely enamored by its clear pink flowers; I’ll be on the lookout for this in the nurseries this year. Be warned, that when you find it the little 4″ pot may not look very promising with just a couple of short branches and a flower bud or two. Give it a few weeks and trust me!


Samantha lantana

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the Blue Whirlwind fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the  Whirlwind Blue fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

I love the bold red, hot pink, gold and orange blooming lantana but Samantha offers something else; variegated leaves. These are especially appreciated early in the season when the yellow flowers are few.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

Lemon Slice million bells and Berry Luscious lantana - fabulous combo

Lemon Slice million bells and Luscious Berry Blend lantana – fabulous combo

I’ve never been a fan of petunias but these mini petunias are much better. No deadheading needed and they don’t turn to a sticky mess after rain. Some varieties win me over more than others, but in truth the results also depends on who has grown the plant. You get what you pay for; cheap plants may not have been grown in prime potting soil nor pinched out during the growing cycle to get nice bushy plants. Pay the extra for top quality and your containers will show the difference.

Some of my favorite varieties include Lemon Slice (yellow/white), Cherry Star (hot pink with yellow star) and Pomegranate Punch (bi-color burgundy and grape)

Bonfire Begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

This has been around for a while now and is still my favorite variety of the Begonia boliviensis for its vivid orange tubular flowers that thrive in full sun. Bonfire is a top performer.

Other (flowering) favorites

Fuchsia autumnale – amazing multi-colored foliage

Torenia ‘Midnight Blue’ – fabulous for the shade


Time to go shopping……

If you’d like to join me there are just a few spaces left in my Spring Container Workshops. Details and registration info here.

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Top Perennials for Summer Pots

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty foliage as well as white flowers

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty evergreen foliage as well as white flowers

When I design container gardens nothing is safe! I explore everything from dwarf trees and slow growing shrubs to groundcovers, annuals and even houseplants (although I wait until night temperatures are stable at 55′ or above for those). I also include a lot of perennials in my designs; both evergreen and herbaceous types as they lend a sense of maturity and are also a good investment since they can be kept in the container for several years before eventually being transplanted into the garden.

I look for perennials that have great foliage to help establish a framework for summer annuals that won’t get into their stride for a few more weeks. I also seek out perennials that have a long bloom time but if I am including them for the flowers I also need to make sure that the leaves won’t overpower the container.

Here are some of my favorites.

Thunder and Lightning field scabious (Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning’)


Fun color, pretty flowers, drought tolerant, deer resistant, great foliage – why haven’t you used Thunder and Lightning field scabious before?

The distinctive jagged mid-green foliage has a cream margin that really make this perennial stand out from the crowd. Magenta pincushion-type flowers bloom for months and stand tall above the foliage cushion.


Deer be Damned

We featured this perennial in a combination called Deer Be Damned! in our book Fine Foliage (p10) and we hear it’s one of your favorites.

Apricot Sprite hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sprite’)


This drought tolerant perennial deserves to be used more in your designs. Apricot Sprite has soft orange tubular flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds while the fragrant grey-green leaves are attractive and tidy. Combine with other drought tolerant plants such as lavender, grasses and succulents for an easy care design. 15″ tall

Trailing stonecrops (Sedum)


Angelina and Blaze of Fulda sedums mingle with the glossy variegated foliage of a mirror plant (Coprosma) and a dwarf conifer


There are many to choose from but these are my top three. Blaze of Fulda stonecrop has  wonderful burgundy rosettes and hot pink flowers while the leaves of October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii) are grey blue,tipped with pink and the late summer flowers are a clear pink. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is a beautiful evergreen golden-yellow succulent with yellow flowers. The foliage is reminiscent in appearance  of rosemary. All are beautiful tucked at the edge of pots.

Spurge (Euphorbia)

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Donkey spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) works well as a trailer in sunny pots. In the rustic teal container above it is elegantly paired with black mondo grass. The pink ‘flowers’ are usually trimmed away but this image shows just how beautiful they can be as they age.

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenat

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenta

Taller varieties of spurge work well as fillers in mixed designs. My top three are Ascot Rainbow which has variegated leaves of yellow, green and rose, Ruby Glow in deep purple and Silver Swan which has a pretty teal and white variegation.

Note; The sap is a significant skin irritant so always wear gloves when handling. Some varieties of spurge are invasive in some areas so check with your local County extension office before planting.

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

You can base your selection on flower color ( pink or white), foliage color (green, burgundy, striped or speckled), height (from 2′ to 5′) or hardiness but all will reward you with dancing flowers all summer long. The leaves are dainty enough to be a design element themselves while the prolific flowers make this a reliable thriller for your container or basket.

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

Named varieties include Passionate Blush (compact plants, pink flowers), Passionate Rainbow (mid-size plant, pink flowers, variegated leaves) So White (pure white flowers on a compact plant) and Whirling Butterflies (taller plants for large pots, white flowers suffused with pink).

Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)


Dare to be different!

Dare to be different!

Use this where a soft fern-like foliage is needed in a sunny pot. Elegant and tall you can rely on this as a thriller and the interest begins with blue flowers in spring and continues until a hard freeze when the leaves turn burnt orange.

Fall color begins in late September

Fall color begins in late September


This is deer resistant and drought tolerant too!

Tip; if adding this to your landscape be sure to plant it in well drained soil and full sun. Mine never gets watered unless it rains and is thriving! Plant in broad sweeps for the best effect

Trailing Heucherella


Redstone Falls heucherella tumbles down the side of a tall pot


Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella are mainstays in my designs, with varieties available for sun or shade and in many different colors and patterns. Look out for the trailing heucherella though. They can be hard to spot in a display so look for named varieties such as Redstone Falls and Yellowstone Falls. These will spill over the edges of containers for up to 2′ and look stunning!


Yellowstone Falls Heucherella - such lovely foliage

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella – such lovely foliage


They are also evergreen making these a great choice for year round interest

More ideas?

Karen Chapman container gardening instructor

If you live in the Seattle area come and join one of my Spring Container Workshops this month. Thee are a few spaces left and we have LOTS of fun. Find out more and register here.

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Pretty Enough To Eat

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Gone are the days where ‘salad’ meant a limp lettuce leaf and a dollop of salad cream (in the UK) or ranch dressing (in the USA)! Leaf crops such as spinach, peppery arugula and crunchy kale jostle with a tantalizing blend of colorful lettuce varieties. Harvest some young beet leaves, carrot tops and herbs and you have a fabulous base to add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and spring onions. The adventurous chef may even sprinkle in a few edible flowers for a garnish.

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Buying all those ingredients at the store isn’t cheap, however, and how often have you had to throw out the last of the salad leaves because it went bad? The good news is that we can grow all of these in our own gardens – even if we only have a small patio. If you’re new to edible gardening start with something easy such as lettuce, especially if you grow  one of the ‘cut and come again’ or mesclun’ blends.

How to grow lettuce 

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6" or so

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6″ or so

Whether you are planting in the ground or a container be sure the soil is weed free and friable (that just means that it crumbles easily in your hand rather than a wet clod of clay or superfine and sand-like). Do not fertilize; too much nitrogen can make the flavor bitter

Select an area that receives 4-6 hours of direct sun each day, preferably in the morning. Many lettuce varieties will bolt in high summer and/or hot afternoon sun and actually prefer to get direct morning sun but afternoon shade. You may be able to shade them by planting on the eastern side of a row of tall tomatoes or beans for example

Loosely sprinkle the seed onto the soil surface as directed on the packet, cover with ~1/4″ soil and water thoroughly but gently.

If you are planting out seedlings space them approx. 6″ apart to allow room for them to grow. I use a row marker to keep the lines straight.

Keep the soil bed moist.


Cut what you need for now - and come back for more later

Cut what you need for now – and come back for more later

For cut and come again varieties harvest leaves with scissors, leaving the main plant in situ.

For head lettuce thin to spacing indicated on the packet (eat the thinnings!)

Sow small amounts of seed every 2-3 weeks to extend the harvest


Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

There is no need to work lettuce into a crop rotation. Just plant them where space permits between slower growing plants.

Water in the morning to reduce the likelihood of fungal disease developing.


Squirrel damage!

Squirrel damage!

Slugs – use Sluggo Plus or set beer traps

Bolting – some varieties are more prone to this than others. Also dry soil can cause this.

Squirrels, rabbits and more! – Rabbits won’t jump into beds that are 18″ tall so a taller container or custom height raised bed may be your answer. Squirrels were an unexpected challenge when we filmed our class in San Diego but we think we have them thwarted by adding a hoop structure over a raised bed and covering it with window screen.

Favorite varieties

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

There are SO many to choose from but I always leave room for;

Jericho – a crunchy, romaine type lettuce that is very resistant to bolt.

Little Gem – a classic semi-cos variety that is crunchy but tender

Gourmet Baby Greens – a mesclun mix from Botanical Interests


Interested in more ideas for easy vegetable gardening? You might also enjoy The Movable Feast.

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!


Building a Raised Bed Garden; our NEW video class for Craftsy teaches you everything you need to know with step-by-step instruction. Discover more and get up to a 50% discount!

Raised Bed Workshop; live in the Seattle area? Join Andy and I in our garden May 16th for a morning of instruction, demonstration, and inspiration. Limited space – get the details



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